Sheila, Garry Delacruz, Louise du Plessis, Jowel Layug, & Nushiba Nujuma
Today we sat down with Louise du Plessis the School Food Programme Director from Slices Catering company to discuss her role and what it is like to provide the school lunches for Greenfield Community School (GCS).
What is Slices?
Slices is a School Food Expert and Catering company launched in 2012. We currently provide school lunches for 10 schools in Al Ain, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, including GCS. We have around 100 employees whose hard work makes us who we are! In most schools our staff arrive around 6 AM and immediately start prepping for the lunchtime meal. They usually don’t leave till around 4 PM after they have cleaned and started prepping for the next day.
What is your background?
I am dietitian which means I am really passionate about educating people on healthy eating and the role of diet! I have been working as a Nutritionist and Programme Director for Slices for the past year. Originally I am from South Africa but spent 11 years in the UK and three in the US before moving to Abu Dhabi three years ago.
What is your favourite part of your role?
I am so passionate about kids eating healthy and being ‘food smart.’ I want students to think not just ‘I have to eat’ but ‘why and what’ should I eat? I love holding seminars at schools to help promote healthy choices. Recently I held a successful seminar at Raha International School [a Taaleem sister school] on Sugar in our diets. I also take students from our schools to visit organic farms in the UAE to educate them on where their food is coming from.
Sometimes our students comment that the food is bland tasting. Why is that the case?
Our goal is to provide healthy and tasty food. To insure this, we avoid adding sugar and salt to our dishes. Slices is monitored by the Dubai Food Regulation Authority and they set our guidelines. For example we have had to remove some of our fruit juice brands because they are too high in sugar. The result is that, although our food is very healthy it might be lacking of the salt, sugar and additives we have now grown accustomed to our in our diets.
How do you decide what will be on the menu?
Our chef is constantly looking at and revamping our food menu. We want our students to learn healthy eating but also to push their horizons and explore new flavours. With this in mind, we try to offer a wide variety of cuisines. We have a 21 day cycle menu which rotates every term. When compiling our menu items for the term we look at a number of factors including: nutrition, worldwide food trends and what dishes have previously been popular.
How do you set the price?
A meal costs between 20-25 AED depending on the grade level and the student’s selection. Considering that we are using only fresh, never frozen foods we cannot lower our costs without sacrificing the quality of our food.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face?
We have a lot of pressure on us as a school food company because we cannot just provide what everyone wants. We are bound by a set of regulations. It often isn’t as simple as a lot of people think. Even the kinds of foods we can offer are limited based on price restrictions, the scale/amount of food we need to produce and the vast variety of ethnic backgrounds and age groups we are feeding. We also need to be flexible depending on what our suppliers are able to provide. Maintaining a balance across all these factors is our greatest challenge.